My first backpacking trip to the Uintas was a 3-day trip into Amethyst Basin way back in 2003. I was SO hooked. On that trip we camped at Toomset Lake and day hiked up through Ostler Lake and BR-24. We had planned on day hiking up to Amethyst Lake as well but we spent so much time wandering around and fishing that we had run out of time and had to get back to Toomset before dark.
A couple years later I went out on a solo trip to Amethyst Basin. Once again I camped at Toomset Lake and once again, I ended up not making it to Amethyst Lake. Frustrating. I felt like I couldn’t check this place off my list until I actually made it to Amethyst Lake so this year I decided it was time for a third trip into Amethyst Basin.
My good friend Nate recently moved to Park City so it made for an easy escape to the mountains for this trip. We were both able to leave work in Park City a little after noon and be to the trailhead by 2pm. It was nice to drive over Bald Mountain Pass again. The last time I was here in late June, the highway was still closed and the snow was widespread.
The trail to Amethyst starts at the Christmas Meadows Trailhead on the north slope of the Uintas, a few miles off of the Mirror Lake Highway. It’s one of the more popular trails with three spectacular basins to be explored. Most only see Amethyst and for those, the majority seem to day hike straight to Amethyst Lake and back. The mileage directly to Amethyst Lake is about 6.5 miles one way. Here is a map of the area along with the route logged by my GPS on this trip. Note that there are no trails to Ostler or Toomset Lakes and that a good map and route finding skills are required to get to them.
View larger map in new window.
The trail follows along the side of Christmas Meadows for about 2.5 miles before splitting east towards Amethyst Basin. It’s not the most obvious junction, the sign is a little high in the tree. Last year I ran into a group 2 miles past this that had no idea they had blown right past their turn. Two easy ways to make sure you don’t miss it. First, the High Uintas Wilderness sign is very obvious and is a few hundred feet before the junction. Second, the trail crosses Ostler Fork a few hundred feet beyond the junction. Sometimes there is a makeshift bridge there, sometimes there isn’t. In the five separate years I’ve been to the crossing, there has only been a trustworthy bridge one time, in 2010. Fortunately it usually isn’t too difficult to find a reasonable place to cross.
We hurried through those first 2.5 miles before stopping for a quick break near the junction. Thanks to my friend Tim, I was recently introduced to the SteriPen water purifier. After a couple of trips with Tim I bought my own and now taking a break is awesome. I keep my SteriPen Adventurer Opti on the outside of my pack with my Nalgene bottle and each time we stop to sit I fill it up and drink at least a liter of clean, cold, fresh mountain water. No pumping, no heavy filter, no nasty taste. Just stir it around for a minute or so and you have clean water. Magical I tell you. No more sucking it all through a little hose and no more carrying excessive water on the trail. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it. From the junction, the trail gets very steep as it climbs into Amethyst Basin.
The Ostler Fork is quite the sight as it cascades down the slope alongside the trail. For those that only day hike Christmas Meadows, it would be well worth it to hike a few hundred feet up the trail to Amethyst just to see the waterfalls.
Once past the steep section the trail mellows out a bit and winds in and out of meadows and dense forest as it continues deeper into Amethyst Basin. We planned on hiking to Ostler Lake to setup a base camp where Tim, Erin and Jake would be meeting us the next day. They were getting a later start and camping down in Christmas Meadows. Nikita and Sonny evaluate the route as we find our way overland to Ostler Lake.
10 minutes earlier and we could have done this in direct sunlight. That was some mighty cold water. On the way out we found a much better way to cross if we had stayed on the main trail until it hit the river.
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After the late night taking pictures, Saturday morning came early. It felt good to lay out on the grass and not even think about having to be anywhere or do anything. The light was nice the water was smooth and the fish were rising.
Right at noon Tim and the rest of the crew arrived in camp. We had been planning on day hiking up to Amethyst Lake together but the consensus shifted towards a more relaxing day around Ostler and then day hiking Amethyst on the way out the next day. The fishing wasn’t going very well so a few of us took a dip in Ostler Lake. That’s me doing the back float. Tim took the picture.
The next morning came with some bad news. Tim’s knee, which he had injured while stretching Saturday morning, had gotten much worse. The swelling was looking really bad and his range of motion was decreasing. So Tim and Erin decided to hike straight back to the trailhead rather than tack on another few miles to see Amethyst Lake. So we said goodbye and headed off towards Amethyst. Jake came along even though he was riding with Tim & Erin. His plan was to hike with us to Amethyst and then race down the trail to catch up with them.
And there it was. Amethyst Lake. I was so very happy to finally make it here on this my third trip into the basin. The lake was almost completely free of ice except for one section below some of the chutes on the east side of the lake. A week earlier, Dan Ransom was here and the lake was 70-80% ice. Check out his photos and trip report on his website.
Not much else to say about this trip. It was good. Really good. Amethyst is typically a busier than average place so don’t expect solitude except maybe at Toomset Lake or in the meadows. We shared Ostler lake with one other group the first night and two the second. They were both plenty far away so it was fine but sharing none the less. During the day several groups day hiked in and fished Ostler. If I were doing it again I think I might camp near the big meadows below BR-24 and Ostler. You’d have more solitude and if you’re a fly fisherman, those winding channels are a blast.
View the full set of photos on Flickr.
See more of my trip reports to the High Uintas Wilderness.
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